Student sues Kamehameha

The schools' Hawaiians-only
admission policy allegedly violates
a seventh-grader's civil rights

The family of a Kauai seventh-grader wants a federal judge to order Kamehameha Schools to let the boy enroll next week, alleging that his acceptance was unfairly rescinded when the trust learned he had no Hawaiian blood.

A lawsuit, filed on behalf of Brayden Mohica-Cummings by his mother, Kalena Santos, against Kamehameha Schools and the board of trustees, contends that the school's Hawaiians-only admission policy discriminates on the basis of race, in violation of federal law.

The suit includes a motion for a temporary restraining order -- set for 2:45 p.m. today before U.S. Chief Judge David Ezra -- that would force the school to admit Mohica-Cummings this year while his civil rights challenge to the admission policy is heard.

The suit says Mohica-Cummings will suffer irreparable injury, including not being able to attend Kamehameha Schools for the 2003-2004 school year. Middle school students begin classes on Thursday.

Kamuela attorney John Goemans, who represented Big Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice in his successful U.S. Supreme Court challenge of the Hawaiians-only voting policy for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees, and Eric Grant, a constitutional law attorney from Sacramento, Calif., allege that Kamehameha Schools illegally rescinded Mohica-Cummings' invitation to Kamehameha in a letter dated Aug. 13, a week before classes were to start for the middle school.

Colleen Wong, acting chief executive officer of Kamehameha Schools, issued a statement saying the boy's admission was withdrawn after Kamehameha Schools "discovered that misleading and inaccurate documentation was submitted" to verify the student's Hawaiian ancestry.

Schools spokesman Kekoa Paulsen said the boy's mother had been adopted and had no Hawaiian lineage but that she had characterized her adoptive father, who had Hawaiian blood, as her biological father.

In her statement, Wong said: "The decision to rescind the invitation aligns with KS' admissions preference policy, which we believe is consistent with applicable law.

"The policy is consistent with the desires of (trust founder) Princess Bernice Pauahi (Bishop) and KS' mission to provide educational opportunities to improve the capability and well-being of people of Hawaiian ancestry."

Yesterday's suit is the second complaint challenging the private school's admission policy. On June 26, Goemans filed a lawsuit on behalf of an unidentified student alleging that Kamehameha Schools' preference for students of Hawaiian ancestry violated federal civil rights laws.

The school caused an uproar in the Hawaiian community last year when it admitted its first non-Hawaiian student in 40 years.

The opposition to that decision led the trustees to publicly reaffirm the Hawaiians-only admission policy.

Jan Dill, president of Na Pua a Ke Ali'i Pauahi, a parent and alumni association of Kamehameha Schools, called the latest lawsuit another clear attack against the rights of indigenous Hawaiians.

The real issue is whether false information was submitted by the child's parent in the filing of the application or whether it was done for other reasons, Dill said.

"Hawaii as a community should stand up and reject this because it's not right, it's not pono," he said.

He said the Hawaiians-only admission policy is important to the Hawaiian community, consistent with the tradition and heritage of Kamehameha, and has been upheld by the Internal Revenue Service.

Yesterday's lawsuit asks the court to declare that the admission policy violates federal law and is "illegal and unenforceable." Damages are also being sought.

According to the suit, Mohica-Cummings applied in September to be admitted as a seventh-grader and boarder at the schools' Kapalama campus. He received an acceptance letter in April and, since then, has been preparing for school by purchasing school uniforms and other supplies. He also underwent a physical in hopes of joining the school football team, the suit said. He had been told earlier by a dorm advisor that a room had been prepared and waiting for him, according to the suit.

"For four months now, he and his family have actively been preparing for the start of school," Goemans said yesterday. "Brayden was supposed to move into his dorm room today. But all that was tossed out of the window when the racial identity police at Kamehameha Schools couldn't be satisfied that he had the right bloodline."

In the June lawsuit, the student also applied for admission to the Kapalama middle school in 2002 and 2003 and was placed on a waiting list of qualified students. However, his application was denied when he told the school none of his grandparents had Hawaiian blood.

Founded in 1887 under the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great, the schools serve 4,400 Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian students from kindergarten through 12th grade attending three campuses statewide.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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